New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said Thursday that he has reassigned to desk duty five detectives who were the subject this week of a scathing Inspector General’s Office report that said they largely ignored hundreds of sex crime allegations over the past three years.
The move came a day after the new chief was confronted with the latest blow to the NOPD’s reputation, along with questions about why the five detectives accused in the report had been reassigned to street work in three police districts rather than put on the shelf pending further investigation.
When the IG’s report was released Wednesday, Harrison said the officers singled out in the report had been removed from special sex crimes and child abuse units and placed on patrol duty — some of them months ago as the IG’s Office bored into their records.
On Thursday, he said they had been placed on “administrative reassignment,” taking them off the streets.
Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux has periodically criticized the Police Department over the way it tracks crime statistics and manages its personnel. But Wednesday’s revelations hit harder, raising fresh questions about how far some of the department’s reform efforts progressed under former Superintendent Ronal Serpas, who abruptly retired in August.
Quatrevaux said the officers in question simply labeled hundreds of the sex crime cases assigned to them as “miscellaneous” and followed up on only a fraction of the cases they did classify as crimes with anything more than cursory initial reports. One officer allegedly told colleagues she did not think simple rape should be classified as a crime.
Harrison suggested that all of the officers may face criminal charges, and two are accused of backdating six reports on the same day in 2013, after Quatrevaux’s office asked the department to produce them.
While the department has pushed back against Quatrevaux’s conclusions in the past, that has not been the case this time, at least not yet. Quatrevaux and Harrison announced the findings at a joint news conference, and Harrison said the department’s Public Integrity Bureau this week launched its own full-scale investigation of the five detectives.
“Our Public Integrity Bureau is working around the clock to investigate each allegation outlined in the OIG report,” Harrison said in a statement Thursday. “Based on our initial review of the findings, we believe there is enough evidence to suggest that these five officers weren’t doing the job they were charged to do. We will continue to investigate each case and will take additional disciplinary action if and when we discover violations.”
The detectives under investigation are Akron Davis, Merrill Merricks, Derrick Williams, Damita Williams and Vernon Haynes. All of them have spent more than 15 years on the force. All but Davis worked in the sex crimes unit.
Donovan Livaccari, an attorney with the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, called the decision to put the officers on desk duty “a little bit of an overreaction” and cautioned against convicting them prematurely. “I hope this is not an indication that the investigation that follows will be unduly influenced by published reports,” he said.